At the Dallas Fort Worth airport, when you go to the bathroom, you put your life at risk.
This week, technology web sites are writing about the Hovertrax Electric Vehicle, a personal transportation device that costs as much as an old used car but provides almost none of the functionality. If you remember the Seqway, the personal transportation vehicle that was supposed to revolutionize our society but never did, you’ll have a good idea of what the Hovertrax is. Essentially, the Hovertrax is a Segway without handles. It’s a platform with wheels that a person steps on and controls by carefully managing their balance to activate gyroscopic mechanisms.
EarthTechling writer Nino Marchetti proposes the Hovertrax as a mode of transportation for “those times when walking a long distance can be overrated,” but doesn’t specify what those times would be. Presumably, these times the Hovertrax would outperform walking would have to include relatively clear weather conditions, in places with smooth, wide sidewalks, as the Hovertrax doesn’t seem capable of moving across uneven natural terrain, or through snow and ice.
At its maxiumum speed, the Hovertrax can reach the pace of a moderate jog. However, the Hovertrax runs out of power after only four miles, and requires a full hour to recharge. When its batteries run out of energy, it needs to be carried by hand to a power source.
The one advantage that a Hovertrax has over an old used car is low emissions and energy efficiency. However, a tech design company from the Ukraine has proposed an alternative that threatens to steal the thunder of the Hovertrax. The Ukranian design team calls their transportation system the Cronax.
Unlike the Hovertrax, which relies on electrical systems that are mostly powered by the dirty process of burning of coal and natural gas, the Cronax recycles the energy that its users receive from their own biological nutrition. In fact, the Cronax helps its users to burn more calories than they would if they drove a car or rode a Hovertrax, actually making its users more physically fit.
The Cronax system has advanced transportation capabilities that the engineers of the Hovertrax, the Segway, and traditional automobiles have been unable to replicate. Like its competition, the Cronax works well on flat, paved surfaces. Unlike its competition, the Cronax can easily take its users over uneven natural terrain. The Cronax can actually climb stairs, and smoothly move over barriers several feet high. More adventurous Cronax users have learned how to use the system to perform such feats as climbing trees and mountains.
An amazing feature of the Cronax transportation system is that it doesn’t change the appearance of the people who use it. What’s more, the Cronax can go for decades without need of repair. The Cronax is designed to recover from minor damage overnight, while its users are sleeping.
Best of all, people seeking to use the Cronax system don’t need to pay the hefty price retailers ask for the Segway or the Hovertrax. The Cronax system comes pre-installed, at no additional cost.
Alas, I couldn’t find Avon Street.
Should I search for it?
The prize may be “actual hair samples of Abominable Snowmen, Bigfoot, Yowie, and Orang Pendek” or “fecal matter from a small Yeti.”
A few weeks ago, I wrote about an effort to allow rich people to buy a spot on a spaceship that would fly around the planet Mars, and then come flying back to Earth. The idea seemed repugnant and rather pointless. The Mars Inspiration Foundation proposed to get human beings almost to Mars, with “no entry into the Mars atmosphere, and no rendezvous and docking”, and then turn right around without doing anything from orbit around Mars that robotic rovers couldn’t do. Choosing people to make the trip according to how much money they could pay seemed to miss the lesson of early European upper class colonists who bought their way onto boats to the Americas – and then starved there because they didn’t know how to work.
A different approach is being proposed by Mars One, which yesterday announced that it is planning to begin a human colony on Mars beginning in the year 2023 – just ten years from now. Whereas the Mars Inspiration Foundation is operating as an oligarchy, in which the people with the most money get the control, Mars One isn’t making the ability to pay its central criterion. In fact, Mars One is willing to allow outsiders to have a vote on which applicants can go first. The organization writes, “Mars One will open up this procedure for everyone to see. And not only to watch: after Mars One experts have eliminated unsuitable candidates, the audience will have a say in who will be the first humans on Mars. Mars One will make the selection of the first ambassadors to another planet a democratic process!”
Another important difference is that people taking the Mars One trip will actually go to Mars, rather than just going close to Mars. They’ll touch down on the planet’s surface, and then stay there for the rest of their lives.
That’s a long time to spend in a very hostile place. Who would want to take such a trip?
I imagine that someone young, physically fit, without a spouse and children, would be the sort of person to apply most often. But then, the dating potential on Mars isn’t very broad. Four people would make the initial trip, and four additional people would join the colony every couple of years or so, according to plans.
The living quarters would be quite cramped, and going for a walk would involve remarkable risks. Supplies would be short, and there wouldn’t be much in the way of natural resources. Perhaps water could be found underground, and there would be rocks, and dusk, and very weak sunlight. There would be lots and lots of thin, toxic air.
A few challenges come to mind:
- The living quarters are supposed to be lightweight and inflatable, but there are big dust storms on Mars. How could the quarters endure the local weather?
- What happens when someone gets sick?
- How could the colony grow enough food, with the sunlight so weak?
- What about the radiation from the sun? Does Mars provide anything like the protection of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic core?
- How would people cope psychologically with the extreme isolation and deprivation? How could any psychological
- What’s the long term plan for economic sustainability of the Mars colony? The Mars One business model is centered around getting lots of attention because of the newsworthiness of having people on Mars. Where is the money going to come from when the newsworthiness fades away?
Do you intend to apply for this one way trip to Mars? Do you intend to donate any money to help it get off the ground?
I stepped out my front door and walked a quarter mile to a bus that took me the first 30 minutes of my trip for just $1.50.
I arrived at another Greyhound bus terminal where the shops around the departure gate include the range of an small city, rather than a set of highly restricted shops in closed space with outrageously inflated prices.
I didn’t have to show anyone any ID. I didn’t have my bags searched. I didn’t have to take off my shoes. I wasn’t scanned by any machines. I just showed my ticket and stepped on board.
There was no charge for checking luggage, and no fight for overhead bin space for carry on bags.
No one demanded that I turn off my electronic devices when I got on board. At my seat, there are two ordinary power plugs that don’t require any adapters, so that my computer and mobile device can both retain a charge for the entire journey. There’s also free wireless Internet. I’m writing and uploading this article while en route.
When I get to my destination, I won’t have to walk down long corridors to arrive at an ugly suburban destination a long cab ride from where I really want to go. I’ll just walk 750 feet down the sidewalk to my hotel.
The cost of this trip is a fraction of what it would be if I took an airplane.
I’ve got a warm, clean comfortable window seat. There isn’t anyone sitting next to me, taking the armrest.
In fact, there’s hardly anybody on this bus at all.
Yesterday, as I was preparing the graphic for an article about two anti-NAFTA bills in Congress, a little thought erupted in my brain, and stayed there all day.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed yesterday that 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the United States. Every single one of the contiguous 48 states had above average temperatures last year.
I was thinking of the remarkable shift in climate, in combination with the remarkable lack of response by either Democrats or Republicans in the U.S. government. Looking at the graphic of the North American continent I was working on, I was reminded that climate change isn’t just a problem in one nation. It’s global in scope, and maybe that’s one reason that action to confront climate change has been so difficult to organize. People think in terms of national identity, and national identities restrict areas of focus within national boundaries rather than on a larger scale.
When the news came out last summer that Arctic sea ice had reached the lowest extent ever recorded, it sounded theoretically important, because the Arctic seems like a world apart from where most people live.
In truth, the Arctic is not as far as people think it is. Americans routinely fly from coast to coast, going three thousand miles. The Arctic is closer to major northern cities than that. It’s so close, a person could walk there.
That’s the thought that popped into my mind as I looked at a map of my own continent, North America: With some preparation, I could walk out the door and keep on going until I reached the Arctic. With enough time, I could travel on foot to see the melting Arctic waters for myself.
Why not do it?
If I could take a walk right up to the shore of the Arctic waters within the Arctic Circle, maybe the extreme climate shifts taking place in the Arctic could become less abstract than they seem now. By walking the distance, I could connect the continental United States with the Arctic in a way that hasn’t been done in recent times.
Part of the point would be to see the Arctic before it changes. There are plenty of ways to do that, including flights to Arctic destinations, cruises on gigantic ships, and even a few roads to the Alaskan north. Those forms of transportation use fossil fuels, though, and are significant sources of the very greenhouse gases that are causing global warming in the first place.
Walking this great distance, into a land where there are no roads, part of what I want to do is to remind myself that traveling in machines propelled by internal combustion engines is the aberration from the historical norm. I want to engage in an act of extreme pedestrian travel as a reminder, to myself and to others, that driving a car to get around town really isn’t as necessary as we like to think it is.
I wouldn’t say I’ve firmly made up my mind, but I’m seriously considering actually taking this walk.
Of course, I’ve done nothing at all like this before. Given that it’s far beyond any sort of travel by foot I’ve undertaken before, and that I’ve never traveled to the Arctic at all, I have a great deal of preparation before I make the attempt. I don’t want to end up as a character in a book like Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild.
If I’m going to take this walk, I want to do it right:
1. With a reasonable degree of safety
2. Without creating a heavy environmental footprint
3. Creating enough of a political impact to make the time and effort worthwhile
There’s a lot of planning to go into a trip like this. If I were to go to the top of Quebec or Newfoundland, the distance would be approximately 1,500 miles, as the crow flies. To get across the Arctic Circle, however, I’d have to make my way up to Churchill, and then go west of Hudson Bay, more than 2,500 miles as the crow flies… and I won’t be a crow flying.
Questions to ponder:
How much food will I need, and what kind of food can I take, once I reach the last reasonably-sized human settlement?
Can I find a string of remote camps and settlements to travel between, or will I have to abandon hope of places to resupply after a certain point?
How should I prepare for the bears?
What kind of technology can I reasonably take along to document the journey? Will solar cells effectively power small devices in the far north?
Should I take a small paddle portable boat to increase my speed as I encounter the many rivers and lakes of the Canadian wilderness?
Should I recruit guides and allies to travel with me along various parts of the walk? What kind of company should I avoid?
How can I keep my family financially afloat as I take this long walk?
How do I prepare to establish a foundation of good health as I begin? What health problems are most likely?
What are the legal requirements for a U.S. citizen walking across large areas of Canadian wilderness?